Friday, 29 February 2008

Climate Change Committee Appointments

Further appointments to the Committee on Climate Change have been announced. Leading ecologist Lord Robert May has been named as a member of the Committee, chaired by Lord Adair Turner. Also on the Committee are climatologist Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, economists Dr Sam Fankhauser and Professor Michael Grubb and technologist Professor Jim Skea.

The number of Committee members is set to increase once the Climate Change Bill receives Royal Assent, expected later in 2008. Appointments are for five years.

Find out more about the members of the Committee on Climate Change.

Jellyfish Invasion

Today's Guardian reports that climate change, over-fishing and land management practices are contributing to a rapid rise in the number of jellyfish in the sea, manifesting themselves as 'plagues' in summer waters in the Mediterranean and as far afield as Namibia, Alaska and Australia. A study by scientists at the Spanish Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM) has revealed that, unlike previously thought, jellyfish proliferate throughout the year, not just in summer. They have discovered numerous jellyfish 'blooms' along the Catalan coast which are likely to wash inland from deeper waters on the summer tides, plaguing the coastline.

Global warming has created the perfect conditions for jellyfish to breed, with mild temperatures and reduced winter rainstorms. Over-fishing has led to the removal of the jellyfish's predators, whilst agricultural run-off into coastal waters also contributes to the proliferation of jellyfish populations, through the promotion of algal blooms. The use of beaches in tourism has also contributed to a growth in jellyfish numbers, due to a reduction in the number of nesting sites for leatherback turtles and so a drop in the population of one of the jellyfish's principle predators.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Blogging Science: 28 February

An event taking place tomorrow night, organised by the Royal Institution, provides the opportunity to meet those contributing to popular science blogs, including Dr Ben Goldacre, behind the Guardian's 'Bad Science' column and blog. 

The bloggers (Dr Ben Goldacre, Dr Jennifer Rohn and Ed Yong) will discuss why they write, what makes a good post and what blogging can do for science. 

Host: The Royal Institution
Time: 7.00 - 8.30pm
Venue: The Apple Store, Regent Street, London

DEFRA Science: New Inquiry Announced

The EFRA Select Committee has announced a new inquiry; into the science capability of DEFRA and its agencies.

The Committee has published a call for information to help frame the scope of its inquiry by suggesting areas which the Committee could usefully examine. Submissions are required by Thursday 28 March at the latest. 

Badgers and Cattle TB: Final Report of Select Committee Published

The EFRA Select Committee has today published the final report of its inquiry into badgers and cattle TB.  The Committee find that current measures to control the spread of TB are not working and recommends that the Governments' future policy include more frequent testing of cattle, deployment of vaccines when available and greater communication with farmers over the benefits of biosecurity.

The Committee recognise that culling alone can never be the solution to the problem but state that there would be a case for granting a license for a cull, in some "hot spot" areas, if it could be proved that the cull would be carried out competently, efficiently, cover a large area, be sustainable for four years and be carried out in areas with "hard" and "soft" boundaries.  They stress that these conditions were those agreed previously between Sir David King, former Government Chief Scientific Advisor, and the Independent Scientific Group commissioned to carry out research into this area. 

The Committee urge Defra to increase spending to eradicate bovine TB, "spending to save". Central to this should be increased scientific research into the exact mechanisms of spread between badgers and cattle. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

"Leave it off" on 27-28 February: E-Day

Tomorrow (Wednesday 27 February) sees the start of 'E-Day', or Energy Saving Day, a 24 hour event encouraging the British public to turn off non-essential household items, and aiming to show how even small energy saving measures can play a part in tackling climate change.

Everyone who wants to take part in E-Day is being asked to leave off household electrical items for as long as possible between 6pm tomorrow and 6pm on Thursday 28th. Direct feedback on the results of these actions on national energy demand will be available on the E-Day website at, which will be updated on a minute by minute basis.

E-Day state that "given the number of non-essential household items which are left on, widespread uptake of this call to action has the potential to generate a 1-3% drop in the UK's electricity demand". The organisers estimate that if unnecessary electrical items were regularly turned off, this would equate to permanently turning off a medium-sized (500MW) coal-fired power station.  

Friday, 22 February 2008

DEFRA 2008/09 Budget Announced

The 2008/09 Defra budget was yesterday made public, with a modest increase in funds (1.4%, or almost £4 billion over three years) on 2007/08 levels. Significant new investment was announced in the following areas:

  • Low Carbon Technology: The domestic Environmental Transformation Fund (ETF) has been increased to £400 million over the next three years. As part of this, the Carbon Trust will receive £47.5 million to bring forward the development of clean energy technologies such as offshore wind, marine energy and biomass heating. In addition, £800 million will be available over three years to tackle environmental challenges in the developing world.
  • Sustainable Waste Infrastructure: £2 billion for Private Finance Initiatives (PFI)  over three years.
  • Flood Protection: £2.15 billion over three years
  • Rural Development Programme for England: Resources doubled to £3.9 billion available to 2013.
In addition, the Government is to provide £10 million for a new anaerobic digestion demonstration programme, which will result in the development of at least four commercial-scale facilities to demonstrate the potential of this technology to create renewable energy from waste.

Natural England will receive a budget allocation of £176 million, a decrease on its 2007/8 budget. Natural England have welcomed the settlement, recognising it as "challenging but manageable."

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Expanded Role for the Committee on Climate Change

Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Defra, has announced an expanded role for the Committee on Climate Change, one of a number of amenments made to the Climate Change Bill as it moves through the Committee Stage in the House of Lords. The Committee will be consulted by the Government in a wider range of situations than previously proposed, including whether international aviation and shipping emissions should be included in the Government's targets and budgets.

A review of the target for a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 has also been made a statutory duty of the Committee. The Government announced a review of the target in 2007, with the Committee to consider, in light of scientific developments, whether this should in fact be 80%. The Committee has been asked to provide its judgement on the 80% target and on the first of the three five-year carbon budgets, by 1 December 2008.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Select Committee Report on Badgers and Bovine TB: Date Announced

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has today announced that it is to publish the report of its inquiry into Badgers and cattle TB on 27 February at 00.01am. Advance copies will be available under embargo from 9.30am on 26 February. The report will be available on the Committee's homepage on the day of its launch.

A Government response is expected within two months of the publication of the Committee's report.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Huge Study Maps Human Impact on World's Oceans

A huge study which has mapped the total human impact on the seas for the first time has revealed that the picture is far worse than the scientists imagined. 40% of the world's oceans have been heavily affected by human activities, including fishing, coastal development and pollution from shipping. The most severely affected areas are the North Sea, South and East China Seas, Carribean, Mediterranean, Red Sea, the Gulf, the Bering Sea, the East Coast of North America and the Western Pacific.

Scientists compiled data on the impact of 17 human activities across 20 ecosystems to compile a map of impacts at a global scale. The results were presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

One of the scientists behind the study commented that; "the message for policy-makers is clear... Conservation action that cuts across the whole set of human impacts is needed right now in many places around the globe".

See the Map of Human Impacts on the Oceans

Local Input Needed into Environmental Policy

A paper published yesterday by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) criticises policy-makers for failing to take a joined up approach to tackling the globe's environmental problems. Senior researchers argue that there has been a focus on climate change mitigation in policy-making, to the detriment of biodiversity and the livlihoods and interests of the world's poorest people. One example given is the conversion of large tracts of biodiverse forest for the growth of biofuels, with the consequent loss of local resources.

The interactions between climate change, biodiversity loss and poverty alleviation must be examined more stringently by policy makers. To be effective, policies must also have greater input from local communities, who must be involved in decisions about how biodiversity is used. The researchers give the example of 'farmer-researcher' collaborations as being especially valuable in generating measures to adapt to climate change and fight poverty, such as seed exchanges and field experimentation built on local knowledge.

The researchers warn that unless "pro-poor, biodiversity friendly" means of adapting to and mitigating climate change are found, involving local communities in decision-making, Governments risk failing to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Friday, 15 February 2008

SEAMLESS - Policy and Agriculture

A team of researchers from 15 European countries has generated a model which can evaluate the effect of policy change on agriculture. Unlike previous models, this can evaluate impacts at multiple levels; from farming in a specific region to the whole European and global food market. Previous studies have also tended to focus on either the economic or the environmental impacts of change: the new model is able to evaluate both.

The model is designed to evolve, with new components added at later stages as necessary, for example, the effect of agricultural policy on biodiversity. The geographical scope of the model can also expand as the number of EU Member States increases.

The development of the model, named the 'System for Environmental and Agricultural Modelling; Linking Science and Society' (SEAMLESS), has been funded under the EU Framework Programme 6 (Global Change and Ecosystems) and was commissioned by the University of Wageningan (Netherlands).

Monday, 11 February 2008

Darwin Day

Tuesday 12th February marks 'Darwin Day', the anniversary of the birth of the naturalist Charles Darwin. The first event took place in 2000, with 'Darwin Day' since developing into a global celebration of science and humanity, with lectures and events taking place at many universities tomorrow. 2009 will see the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of 'On the Origin of Species'. Find out more at

Thursday, 7 February 2008

"Future Water" - New Strategy for England

The Government has today published a new strategy for water management in England. "Future Water" aims to tackle the pollution of rivers, lakes and streams, alongside ensuring the sustainable use of England's water supply.

The strategy includes proposals on how to tackle surface water drainage and reduce water pollution by tackling contaminants at their source. The launch of the strategy is accompanied by the launch of consultations on both the reduction of phosphates in the water supply and on the management of surface water. The Government hopes that phosphates can be phased out of use in domestic laundry products by 2015.

Other aspects of the strategy include:

  • Bringing water companies within the scope of the Carbon Reduction Commitment scheme. The water sector has committed to a 20% target for renewable energy by 2020 and is investigating ways to mitigate the non-carbon emissions produced during water processing.
  • Plans to consult later this year on proposals to make the abstraction licensing system better able to cope with climate change, balancing the demand for essential water supplies with damage to aquatic ecosystems and wildlife. This will precede a National Policy Statement in 2009.

Climate Change - Evidence Session with the Secretary of State

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has announced that it will receive oral evidence on climate change from the Secretary of State, Hilary Benn.

Areas of questioning will include the Government’s response to the Committee’s Eighth Report, Session 2006-07: Climate Change: the “citizen’s agenda” and the outcome of the Bali Summit.

The session will take place on 20 February at 4.00pm. Evidence sessions are open to interested members of the public. Find out more from the Committee's website.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

New Study: Areas Most Vulnerable to Climate Change Induced Collapse

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, and featured today in the Guardian, has identified the nine most fragile and vulnerable regions of the planet and warned that many are in danger of sudden and irreversible collapse before the end of the 21st Century.

The Arctic and Greenland ice sheets are identified as being the most vulnerable to passing irreversible "tipping points", with the Amazon rainforest coming a close second. The scientists calculate that the Arctic sea ice will go into irreversible decline once temperatures increase between 0.5 - 2C on temperatures at the start of the century. Warming of 3-5C could reduce rainfall in the Amazon by 30%.

The team behind the paper includes scientists from the University of Eact Anglia, Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany. The opinions of environmental experts were combined with the results of discussions amongst climate researchers at a workshop to generate the results.

Monday, 4 February 2008

BES Policy Internship

The British Ecological Society has a volunteer oportunity to assist the Science Policy Team for two days a week for up to three months at the Society’s office in Putney, London.

The BES will cover the volunteer's travel within London and lunch expenses.
To apply, please send a CV and covering letter (including details of when you would be able to start and days available to volunteer) to the Science Policy Team .

The deadline for applications is: 29 February 2008
Interviews will be held on: 17 March 2008

For more information see the Public Affairs pages on the Society's website.

Scottish Environment Week - 4-11 February

This week is Scottish Environment Week, with numerous events in the Scottish Parliament focussing around the theme of the event, 'A Climate for Change: Ensuring Sustainable Livlihoods'. Now in its third year, Scottish Environment Week provides an opportunity to focus on the environment and the value it brings to the society and economy of Scotland. Scottish MSPs will take part in, amongst other events, site visits to environmental initiatives across their constituencies and have the opportunity to see the first showing of a three-minute film on the Scottish marine environment, as part of a discussion on the Scottish Marine Bill.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Beacons for Public Engagement

Wednesday night, 30 January, saw the launch of six 'Beacons of Public Engagement', a scheme to encourage researchers and the public towards greater interaction and understanding. The £9.2M initiative, funded by the UK higher education research councils, Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust, is one of the biggest of its kind ever launched in the UK. Through a series of collaborative initiatives, researchers will be encouraged to see the social implications of their research, to reach out to the public to communicate their work and make their research more accessible to external audiences.

Writing in the Times Higher yesterday, Jack Stilgoe, a senior reseacher at the think tank DEMOS, called for those scientists who do take the time to enage with the public, to be rewarded for their efforts. Proposals for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the successor to the RAE, do not as they stand reward scientists' activities in such areas, a situation which many scientific organisations, including the BES, would like to see altered.

Respond to the HEFCE consultation on the REF at by 14 February 2008.